Pattabhi Jois used to say that parenthood was the seventh series of Ashtanga Yoga. Having practiced and studied yoga for the past 10 years and got half way through the second series, I thought I was doing quite well. My body and mind were slowly making the necessary psychological and physiological changes to enable me to progress throughout the practice. I could do splits, deep backbends, even put my legs behind my head, but none of that could prepare me for what was in store once baby was here!
There are many, many things no-one tells you about being a new parent. The first few weeks are often crazy and fraught from dealing with your newborn, dealing with the deluge of family and friends and often dealing with the pain of childbirth and even caesarean section.
I’d planned a midwife-led birth and ended up with an emergency c-section, so it wasn’t the best of introductions to parenting. I found the first 5 weeks extremely difficult, dealing with my baby, whilst trying to look after myself post-op. Having practiced yoga and meditation for 10 years, it quickly occurred to me how much I now needed to implement my practice, taking it off the mat and meditation stool, into my daily life, so in a spare few minutes (in my head, whilst feeding!) I have come up with some, hopefully, useful tips for keeping sane and keeping relaxed in those first few weeks!
11 Look and listen – In a way I was fortunate that I was housebound the first 6 weeks post-partum. I had LOTS of time to sit and stare at my baby whilst recovering from the c-section. It may not seem like it to begin with but babies have patterns of behaviour, I call it ‘Eat, Play, Sleep, Repeat’ based loosely on a 90 minute cycle. If you keep an eye on your baby and his actions, a pattern will emerge and soon you will be able to know why it is your baby is crying, and minimise the guess work! Remember, your baby is your best teacher for being a parent!
22 Slow down – When your baby is crying, 1 minute feels like 15 minutes and it is hard to stay relaxed through the noise when all you want to do is make everything better for baby. In the first few weeks I was so anxious, I was rushing around to do things, often dropping things, breaking plates and mugs and my nerves were on edge due to being so stressed. As soon as I realised I needed to slow down, things became much easier. I could focus much better on each task and see what needed to be done, the wider picture.
33 Deep breathing – When we are anxious, our breath speeds up, our bellies tense and our chest tightens. Sometimes we even feel a sense of dread and the taste of adrenalin in our mouths. When you go about your daily tasks slowly, bring your attention to your breath and slow it down too. Release your stomach muscles and feel your belly soften and automatically your shoulders will release and you will feel instantly calmer.
44 Posture – It may sound silly but being a new parent quickly takes its toll on your body, especially mums. Feeding in particular is one where we need to be mindful of our posture as whether we breast feed or bottle feed, we are spending a LOT of time in certain positions and this can cause Repetitive Strain Injuries. I began to get pains in my wrists and thumbs from bottle feeding and hand-expressing milk, now I’m dealing with an RSI called ‘mummy’s thumb’, a form of tendonitis, and not nice! The tip I have is to alternate sides when you feed every time; when you can get other people to feed your baby to give yourself some respite. If you can, do some yoga, some downward dog to stretch out your wrists and arms and build back up any strength lost. When feeding relax your tummy, shoulders and jaw and breathe deeply. If you do get pain then early action is required to prevent it from becoming chronic, ice your wrists regularly to reduce inflammation. Change the way you do things like carrying the car seat with baby in to the car, instead leave the seat in the car and take baby to the seat.
55 “This too will pass’ – Always remember what the Buddha said if you are having a bad time of it or even suffering with baby blues or PND, ‘this too will pass’. Nothing is forever, the early days will be difficult as you are settling, mind and body, into the role as new parent. But it WILL become easier and life will get back to a ‘new normal’ quickly, especially if you follow the 4 previous tips!